Red Onion Cafe

When a restaurant has been in operation for longer than the length of time that I’ve lived in Joplin (which is now almost two decades), that says something.

 

In such a fickle industry, owning a successful restaurant since 1995 says, “We’ve figured out the magic formula! We’ve listened to you, our people, and we honor you by serving you the quality food that you want.”

 

Thanks, Red Onion Cafe, for making me feel appreciated as a citizen.

 

I appreciate you right back.

 

The casual, urban atmosphere at Red Onion makes it adaptable for any kind of dining experience, from a date night to a business lunch, a girlfriend getaway to a family meal (regarding that – a quick thank you to all of the Red Onion servers who patiently waited on my fidgety, sometimes boisterous, toddlers over the years).

 

Recently, I left my family at home and joined my friends for a rare girlfriend getaway dinner at Red Onion. Without the distractions of familial responsibilities, I was able to really see the restaurant for the gem that it is.

 

red onion front

 

First of all, Red Onion is located in a quaint historic brick building in the heart of downtown Joplin at 4th and Virginia Streets, just a block off of the iconic Route 66. Inside, the restaurant is open and airy, and offers a laid-back, neighborly feeling. If you’re a local, you will no doubt run into at least one person that you know here.

 

Once my friends and I were seated, we ordered our drinks and an appetizer. In addition to soft drinks, Red Onion serves fantastic raspberry tea and peach tea, as well as a selection of beer and wine.

 

For our appetizer, we ordered the Bruschetta Misto. Red Onion’s version includes grilled foccacia served with fresh, chopped tomatoes with garlic and basil, herbed cream cheese, and a marinated olive salad.

 

red onion misto

Bruschetta Misto

 

One of the most popular appetizers here is the Smoked Chicken Dip, a creamy, smoky, spicy creation that’s served with tortilla chips. This dip is known all around town. I’ve even been with my friend when she picked up an order of this dip, transferred it to a crystal serving platter, and brought it with her to serve at a holiday party. This dip is a perennial crowd-pleaser.

 

For our dinner entrees, Donna and I both ordered the Chicken Tuscany, which was made with grilled chicken, sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes, and wild mushrooms, and topped with a rich parmesan cream sauce. It was served with wild rice and butter fondue broccoli.

 

red onion tuscany

Chicken Tuscany

 

The tangy taste of the tomatoes and artichokes contrasted the smooth, rich flavor of the cream sauce, making my mouth very happy.

 

Erin ordered one of the daily specials, which was a tender steak (Red Onion’s steaks are cut daily in the kitchen) served with equally tender brussel sprouts, which Erin was excited to order since this often-underappreciated vegetable doesn’t regularly appear on menus.

 

red onion steak

The steak special of the day

 

Carrie, my vegan friend, ordered the Black Bean Veggie Burger (minus the cheese).

 

red onion bbb1

Black Bean Veggie Burger

 

Check out the pickle-tomato-and-onion smiley face on her bread. It’s a happy veggie burger!

 

Because I’ve eaten at Red Onion so many times over the years, I’ll tell you about a few more of my favorite items here. For lunch, I typically order the ROC Chicken Salad Sandwich, made with crunchy grapes, celery, and walnuts, and served on buttery grilled whole-grain bread.

 

I am in love with this rich, nutty bread. I’ve considered asking the management at Red Onion who their bread supplier is so that I can buy some to bring home. But then I realized that if I had the bread in my house, I would probably eat an entire loaf in one day so it’s probably best that I don’t know where I can buy it. Yes, these are my food-obsessed thoughts. You’ll understand once you’ve tasted this bread. Believe me.

 

Sometimes, I’ll order the salad version of this sandwich. It’s called the Chicken Walnut Salad and it also comes with a piece of that addictive toasted bread. I order the homemade sweet vinaigrette to top my salad.

 

One of the most popular dishes at Red Onion is David’s Fried Chicken Salad, which consists of mixed greens topped with coconut-breaded chicken, tomatoes, avocados, chopped egg, and cheese, and is served with a honey-mustard dressing.

 

Desserts are not to be forgotten at Red Onion. I’ve eaten enough desserts here through the years that I believe I have the right to claim myself as an expert.

 

You see, the Red Onion’s dessert selection has supported me through three pregnancies. During my second pregnancy, I ate a slice of the Caramel Fudge Pecan Cake about once a week. I noticed that it’s now listed as a best seller on Red Onion’s menu, and I think I maybe I had something to do with that.

 

red onion cake

Caramel Fudge Pecan Cake

 

Red Onion’s wide selection of high-quality menu items, coupled with its relaxed, welcoming dining room, makes it one the restaurants where I always know I’ll have a great experience.

 

Even with fidgety toddlers in tow.

 

Red Onion Cafe is located at 203 E. 4th St.
To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.

Ichiban Sushi

Surprise! You can find a high quality restaurant in a strip mall.

 

 

Surprise! You can find an excellent sushi restaurant in the landlocked Midwest.

 

 

Surprise! You can find a restaurant that has had loyal customers for over a decade.

 

 

Surprise! You can find all of this at Ichiban Sushi, a Japanese restaurant in (surprise!) Joplin, Missouri.

 

 

This was the first sushi restaurant that I ever ate at in Joplin and, believe me, I was hesitant to do so. The idea of eating ocean fish in a strip mall, which was located in a part of the country where beef and pork dominate restaurant menus, was not very appealing to me. Still, people claimed that it was worth taking a chance on this hole-in-the-wall place, so I did.

 

 

It was worth it.

 

 

That was over ten years ago. Now, Ichiban is a restaurant that my husband and I visit on our date night, which works out well since our kids don’t like sushi anyway.

 

 

It’s also a fun place to meet my fellow sushi-eating friends for a girls’ night out, which is something I did recently with my friends Carrie and Erin.

 

 

We arrived around 5:30 p.m. on a Friday and there were two other tables occupied. By the time we left, nearly all the tables were filled. That shows you the kind of power that word-of-mouth advertising, plus internet reviews, has for Ichiban. While other restaurants may focus their resources on heavy media advertising or on elaborate buildings and decor, Ichiban focuses its energy on serving great food.

 

 

Let’s talk about this great food. I started my meal with a house salad, which contained crispy iceberg lettuce, crunchy carrots and red cabbage, and juicy tomatoes, topped with a refreshing dressing made with ginger and sesame.

 

ichiban salad

 

For an appetizer, Erin and I split an order of gyoza, pan-fried Japanese dumplings filled with ground pork and spices and served with a dipping sauce.

 

ichiban gyoza

 

It’s a good thing that I ordered the gyoza to take the edge off my hunger while I reviewed the sushi menu or I would have ordered more than I could eat. The portions here are very generous.

 

 

For instance, take the Thai Veggie roll that Carrie, my vegan friend, ordered.

 

ichiban thai veggie roll

 

This monstrous roll was stuffed with asparagus, broccoli, and Thai peanut sauce, then topped with jalapenos, cilantro, sriracha sauce, and crushed peanuts. This was not a roll that could be eaten in one bite, and Carrie struggled to figure out the best way to do it.

 

ichiban num

 

I ordered the TNT roll, which is an unusual sushi roll because it is served warm. It’s made with a California roll baked with Dynamite sauce and topped with masago, which is an orange roe that adds a crunchy “pop” when you eat it, exploding in your mouth like TNT.

 

ichiban tnt

 

Erin ordered the Sushi and Roll, which included tuna (three types), salmon, octopus, shrimp, unagi, and a couple more types of fish, plus a spicy tuna roll.

 

ichiban sushi and roll

 

Her platter was colorfully arranged like a masterpiece of art.

 

We ordered more rolls to split, like these mini rolls filled with shiitake mushrooms and avocados.

 

ichiban mini veggie

 

And the vegetarian version of sashimi: meaty Portobello Mushrooms, and Fried Tofu (which had a slightly sweet, dessert-like taste).

 

ichiban veggie sashimi

 

For those who don’t like sushi, Ichiban also serves cooked Japanese food like teriyaki dishes.

 

 

Carrie, Erin, and I were too full to order dessert that night, but I’ve heard wonderful things about Ichiban’s Tiger Chocolate Cake which contains layers of milk and white chocolate and is served with a secret sauce.

 

 

Surprise! Chocolate cake at a Japanese restaurant.

 

 

I love surprises.

 

 

Ichiban Sushi is located at 2914 E. 32nd St.

 

 

To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.

Crackpot Pottery and Art Studio

Each time I go, I  feel it long before I see it.

 

Its vibration is so powerful, rising up from the stark industrial park and transforming everything it touches it into a colorful backdrop of imagination and whimsy.

 

crackpot facade

What I feel is the creative buzz emanating from the artistic worker bees at Crackpot Pottery & Art Studio. This community clay art center is a magnet for inspired craftspeople, and they use the studio here to breathe life into their ideas.

 

crackpot front studio

Founded by Suzi Huntington and Brent Skinner, Crackpot Pottery is “THE place to be if you’re interested in getting a little dirty all in the name of art and fun,” according to its Facebook page. I decided that I DID, indeed, want to do just that, so I visited the studio for a Saturday drop-in class.

 

crackpot back studio

What’s great about Saturday drop-in classes is that they don’t require much commitment from people like me, people who want to try something new and different but can’t quite dedicate ourselves to a regular 8-week pottery class (although Crackpot Pottery offers several of those for the people who can commit).

 

At $30 for the class (plus materials, which cost me $18), I found this to be an affordable way to stretch myself creatively. But the best part of these Saturday classes is that I received one-on-one instruction every time. That’s the benefit of having so many craftspeople buzzing about the center: there’s always someone available to share their talent with newbies like me.

 

crackpot kevin

I was paired with Kevin Audley, an instructor with the patience of Job. Ceramics artists like Kevin make working with clay look deceptively easy, so I naively approached my projects with a casual confidence that quickly turned to surprise, then frustration. How come my hands don’t effortlessly transform the clay into a piece of art?

 

I took a deep breath, then gave myself a pep talk. I know I’m not here to create a museum-quality piece. I’m here simply to create, to stretch myself beyond my comfort zone to see what can happen.

 

I felt much better after I stopped judging my progress and allowed myself to enjoy the process.

 

I decided to make a bowl and some trays, although I was tempted to make this adorable piggy bank.

 

crackpot pig

I’ll bring my daughter in to do that next time (after all, I still have a lot of clay left to use!).

 

Once I finished forming my pieces, the clay needed time to dry out, so I’d have to return on another Saturday to complete the next step: glazing.

 

crackpot samples

I love the alchemy of this part of the process: choosing a finished color from the tile samples, dipping the clay pieces into the buckets of glaze (that often looked completely different from the samples), then wondering how the intense heat of the kiln would transform the finish into the color that I envisioned.

 

crackpot kiln

 

crackpot inside kiln

There are several kilns located in back of the studio and they are fired weekly. Here’s how my oxblood-glazed stamped tray looked after it was fired.

 

crackpot tray

When I was at Crackpot Pottery, I marveled at the stunning work of the artists all around me, both in the studio and in the gift shop. While, yes, I’m proud of my little stamped tray, other artists at Crackpot Pottery have created breathtaking works like these:

 

crackpot octopus

 

crackpot cracked pot

I know I shouldn’t compare my work with theirs, but come on.

 

In particular, the work of Brent Skinner caught my eye. I couldn’t resist coming home with this, which is now my favorite mug.

 

crackpot skinner mugNotice the oxblood coaster. See, I did find a practical purpose for my artwork!

 

If you are looking to try something new, check out Crackpot Pottery’s Saturday drop-in class. Whether or not you’re crafty, Crackpot Pottery’s ever-patient staff will make you feel like a ceramics star.

 

 

Crackpot Pottery & Art Studio is located at 3820 E. 20th Street. Click here to visit its website.

 

To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.

Shopping in Joplin

Shop ‘til you drop at boutiques, antiques and specialty shops alongside big box stores

by Christine Smith

 

“What in the world is THAT?”

 

My sister’s eyes were as wide as saucers as she stared out of the car window in disbelief.

 

Her reaction brought a satisfied smile to my face. We’d barely reached the city limits of Joplin and already my worldly sibling from the Windy City was impressed.

 

I’d picked Karen up this morning from the Tulsa Airport. After hopping on I-44, we chatted continuously, passing mile after mile of expansive grassy pastures when—BAM!—there it was.

 

A stately French chateau surrounded by sprawling, well-manicured gardens.

sandstone exteriorSandstone Gardens

 

She couldn’t have been more surprised had she seen a giant jack-in-the-box spring forth from the pastoral southwest Missouri terrain.

 

“That’s Sandstone Gardens,” I told her. “And you can shop there.”

 

I couldn’t wait to show her that shopping in Joplin was more than just stocking up on basic goods at the big-box stores that are visible from I-44.

 

Shopping at Joplin’s local stores offers an authentic and surprisingly sophisticated experience for anyone, even those who have access to the best stores in the world, like my sister.

 

I couldn’t wait to prove it to her.

 

Sandstone Gardens

Our shopping adventure began here. On the outdoor patio, we wandered past tiered lion’s head fountains, classical statues, and decorative cast-stone garden benches, and imagined that we were the ladies of Downton Abbey getting ready to enjoy a spot of afternoon tea in the garden.

 

unique sandstone_thumb_thumb

Sandstone Gardens

Venturing inside the 50,000-square-foot showroom, the sweet scent of honeysuckle potpourri greeted us, beckoning us down a long, narrow hallway lined with candles and richly-scented lotions, and leading us to the grand, two-story atrium where dramatic silk floral arrangements and stately home décor pieces vied for our attention.

 

After shopping for a while, I knew I needed to get some sustenance in her to fuel up for the next store, so I led her to the Bistro.

 

This cozy restaurant is conveniently located in a corner of Sandstone Gardens. My sister ordered a great-looking salad and I ordered the Reuben sandwich (the best in town!) We each ordered cake for dessert: moist German chocolate for her, and tart lemon-berry for me.

 

Boutiques
Bellies full, we were ready to do some clothes shopping. In addition to being a savvy shopper, Karen also studied fashion design, so she has a keen eye when it comes to clothing and accessories.

I knew exactly where to take her: the chic boutiques on Joplin’s historic Main Street.

I went straight for her Achilles heel (sorry for the pun) by taking her to Sophie, the “candy store for shoe addicts.” I gave her some space as she paid reverence to the offering of footwear presented before her: rhinestone-studded cowboy boots, flirty ankle boots, daring stilettos, comfortable wedges, playful flats – you name it.

 

While she tried on pair after pair, I browsed through the rest of the store and was suddenly faced with a dilemma: Did I dare show my sister Sophie’s wide selection of fashion jewelry and scarves, as well the boutique clothing section? If so, we might never leave. If not, she’d miss out on some unique finds.

 

I chose to be a good sister (or enabler—however you look at it) and led her to roam freely.

 

Once I was able to corral her, we crossed Main Street and stopped at Upstairs Boutique. Because it’s a designated Brighton Heart Store, Upstairs Boutique carries an expanded selection of the brand’s items, from jewelry to luggage, so it was the ideal place for Karen to look for a new charm to add to her Brighton bracelet.

 

Our next stop was Blue Moon Market, “a modern boutique with a vintage soul.”

 

Cleverly-placed vintage door frames and signs on the exposed brick walls create a whimsical backdrop for the merchandise here. On the floor, trendy necklaces and bracelets hang like ornaments from home décor pieces that are displayed on vintage dressers and tables—which you can buy, too!

 
“How fun is this place?” Karen asked as we worked our way to the boutique clothing section. By that point, even my hands were filled with wonderful treasures, like a smooth leather wrap bracelet and an antiqued metal sign sporting a sassy saying that I know my friend will love.

 

Next door at the equally playful Six Eleven Boutique,  Karen immediately noticed the brightly-colored umbrellas dangling from the antique copper ceiling and said, “You’ve got some pretty funky stores here in Joplin.”

 

In her world, that’s a colossal compliment. As a seeker of cutting-edge clothing and accessories, my sister had just put her stamp of approval on Joplin as a shopping destination.

 

That was huge.

 

As I tried on a flirty, ruffled tunic dress from Lazy Noiz I could hear her talking excitedly with the salesperson, but the only word I could make out was “Oprah.” When I came out of the dressing room, I walked over to the display where she was slathering some lotion on her hands.

 

boutiques blue moon mix_thumb

Blue Moon Market

“These are on Oprah’s list,” Karen said, excitedly pointing to the bottles of Farmhouse Fresh products in front of us. “This is the only place in Joplin that carries them.”

 

It was fun watching how quickly my sister became an ambassador of the Joplin boutique scene. I couldn’t wait to show her more, like the Pink Door Boutique (with its great selection of hats and scarves), and Mystique Boutique (where I always find unique casual dresses).

 

Next stop, a treat for the palate.


Local Flavor

We drove just a few blocks to Candy House Gourmet. Inside, the air was infused with the scent of sweet cocoa, causing us to practically drool as we painstakingly looked through the selection of handmade chocolates. Karen finally chose a chocolate toffee while I savored a decadent sea salt caramel.

 

I told Karen that we’d have to come back to Candy House Gourmet to take a tour of the factory when we had more time. Then, we’d be able to watch the candy-making process in action (and try some samples!).

 

Driving back to my house, Karen asked if there were places in Joplin that sold healthy food (we strive for a balanced diet, and the more healthy food we can eat, the more chocolate we can savor). I assured her that there several.

 

If she was craving a bite of what’s in season, we’d check out the local fruits, vegetables, honey, and other edibles at the Joplin Farmers Market and the Webb City Farmers Market, or at the Marketplace at Joplin Greenhouse, where there’s a nice selection of organic items, too.


Vintage Finds

On our next shopping outing, we’ll explore Joplin’s vintage shops and flea markets for more uncommon finds. I know Karen will swoon over the chic, repurposed items sold at Simply Vintage (like an orange-painted distressed vintage phonograph cabinet), and she’ll certainly get a kick out of the primitives at Country Pickins Antique Mall (like a lampshade crafted from an old stovetop toaster).

 

Candy-House-Case_thumb

Candy House Gourmet

 
For a hefty dose of thriftiness and quirkiness, we can scour through rows of booths at traditional flea markets like Fancy Flamingo Flea Market and  Rangeline Antique Mall. Items I’ve found in the past at these places include superhero collectibles, milk glass pieces and a peculiar bust of Elvis Presley (which I just can’t get out of my mind).

 

Northpark Mall
Of course, if Karen wants to shop at more familiar stores, we can stop at Northpark Mall, where there are more than 100 retailers, including Macy’s, Sears, J.C. Penney, and T.J. Maxx, or at other national chains located near the mall, like Pier One Imports, Kohl’s, and Target (with a fresh grocery section and a Starbucks inside).

 

But right now, I’m going to get some rest.

 

Because I know that my early-bird sister will wake me at dawn tomorrow, anxious to discover more local treasures.

 

And that makes me feel so proud of my little city and the people who have chosen to open up their businesses here. Because of their originality, character, and friendliness, our local stores impress even the savviest of shoppers.

 

I can attest to that.

 

Check out Joplin shops for inspiration on your next shopping outing!
 
To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.

Joplin Dines Out

A tour of the best local eateries

Grilled sea bass from Crabby’s,

the grand Tour of Mythos,

BBQ from Big R’s,

and Karma’s Bio Diesel.

Hackett’s award-winning, succulent wings,

These are a few of my favorite things.

 

You won’t see them near the exits of I-44, where nationally-recognized chain restaurants dominate the landscape.

 

But drive a couple minutes in from the interstate, and you’ll find them – the local restaurants that are raising the bar on culinary standards in southwest Missouri with creative menus and quality ingredients.

 

crabbys (1)

Crabby’s

 

Starting off the day right
Don’t be fooled by the simple interior of the Bruncheonette; here, the focus is on the food. This downtown restaurant serves breakfast, brunch, and lunch items daily; one of my favorite items is the Benny Harper, a variation of traditional Eggs Benedict that tastes like a BLT thanks to the addition of sliced avocado and smoky bacon.

 

But I rarely order regular menu items here because the daily specials are simply irresistible. Take the “Foitomatic for the People,” a French toast stuffed with local foie gras, and topped with champagne-poached apple compote, spicy pickled raisins, and Hawaiian black lava salt.

 

Casual eateries with gourmet fare
With its whimsical decor and ever-changing local artwork on the walls, Club 609 wowed me with its big-city feel. This downtown restaurant is a solid choice for lunch with an extensive menu, and after work, it transforms into “the” bar in Joplin for Happy Hour and beyond. Classy bar bites include Sushi Sticks and Parmesan Portobello, and Happy Hour lasts until 10pm on some weeknights, making this a great place to relax with friends for an evening.

Standouts here are the Chicken Cordon Bleu Sandwich with creamy béchamel sauce, the Thai Asian Chicken Salad with spicy peanut sauce, and the inventive Tuna Bruschetta.

 

In south Joplin, Club 1201’s three personalities target different groups of diners. Meet here during the week for an impressive business lunch and try the Apricot Turkey Sandwich, with avocados, pecans, raisins, and apricot mayo. On the weekends, catch up with friends in the small and cozy part of the restaurant (called Uncorked) over Banana Rumaki or Bruschetta Steak Sliders (topped with prosciutto, herbed cheese, and a balsamic reduction). Linger over the Bloody Mary bar on Sundays while enjoying a leisurely brunch.

Not your typical burgers and dogs
With its bohemian decor, wide selection of local and craft beers, and eclectic menu including vegan and vegetarian items, InstantKarma Gourmet Hot Dogs is the hippest dog joint around.

 

crabbys (1)

Instant Karma

 

I love the Bio Diesel, a hot dog (beef or vegetarian) topped with creamy, tangy blue cheese slaw and spicy Sriracha sauce, and my daughter likes the Heavenly Donut, a juicy burger served with a glazed donut as the bun.

 

More burger options await at Eagle Drive-In, Instant Karma’s sister restaurant which is housed in a vintage drive-in in south Joplin. The Eagle’s version of a traditional burger comes topped with a quail egg, which sounds unusual but is truly delicious. Other burgers here are made from lamb, bison, and elk.

Vegetarians, don’t despair! Try the Black Bean or Falafel Burgers. And everyone should order a basket of fries to dip in specialty sauces like the garlic aioli or the wasabi mayo.

 

BBQ and wings that sing
People have been making special trips to Joplin for decades just to eat the tender, hickory-smoked meats at Big R’s BBQ. Top off your barbecue meal with a slice of one of Mrs. R’s out-of-this world pies, like Strawberry-Lemonade or Caramel Macchiato (vanilla coffee cream with ripples of caramel).

 

Hackett’s Hot Wings, made Memphis-style, are recognized as some of the best in the region. Choose from five dry rubs and eight sauces, or mix and match to create your own flavor (you can also buy bottled sauce to take home).

 

Dining with class
In addition to the more casual eateries, Joplin also has some wonderful fine-dining establishments that shouldn’t be missed.

 

With its dark, polished wood and art deco interior, I feel like I’m going to run into Al Capone in the dining room at Wilder’sSteakhouse. The atmosphere here implores you to order a Gin Rickey to sip on while you wait for your steak to be cooked to perfection – I love the Filet du Pont, a tender medallion topped with sweet caramelized onions, earthy mushrooms and sharp Gruyere.

 

crabbys (1)

Eagle Drive-In

 

Joplin also has an incredible seafood restaurant: Crabby’s. Concrete floors and crimson walls create a chic, urban vibe. Start your meal with the zesty crab cakes, then try the honey-lavender dressing on a crisp house salad, followed by the popular Pan-Seared Chilean Sea Bass, which is served on a bed of savory garlic mashed potatoes, and topped with sesame asparagus, wild mushrooms, and a mirin butter sauce.

Upscale meets international at Mythos Euro Greek Kuzina. With an elegant dining area that pays homage to its Greek roots, Mythos offers a taste of both Mediterranean and American fare.

 

Still in the mood for Greek? Order the Tour of Mythos, an appetizer designed for two: sliced gyro meat with tangy tzatziki, stuffed grape leaves, spanikopita, olives, and more. Want something closer to home? Try the walnut-crusted chicken or one of the incredibly tender hand-cut steaks. Leave some room for the Deconstructed Tiramisu, which offers all the creamy, coffee flavor of the traditional dessert without the usual soggy texture.

 

More international flavors
There are several excellent Thai restaurants in Joplin. Try the Thai Basil Chicken at Kinnaree, the Magic Mango Fried Rice atMagic Noodle, and the Pumpkin Curry at Thai Time.

 

For sushi, I like to visit the friendly and talented Han the Sushi Man. He is well-known in Joplin for fantastic, fresh sushi and an ever-changing menu to keep things interesting. Try his popular Preston Lacy Roll (named after the Joplin-born actor and daredevil), which is a spicy tuna roll topped with salmon and seafood sauce.

 

crabbys (1)

Kinaree

 

If you’re searching for authentic Mexican food, look no further than Lalo’s Taqueria. Small and unassuming, this restaurant serves a variety of tacos (including tripe and tongue), tortas (Mexican sandwiches), tostadas (the spicy chorizo is my favorite), and fresh guacamole. Come on the weekend to try a bowl of menudo, a traditional Mexican soup.

 

 

One more observation about the Joplin dining scene: Not only are inventive restaurateurs choosing to introduce this city to their unique cuisine, but they are encouraging others to do so, as well.

 

And this supportive restaurant community continues to grow – solidifying Joplin’s position as one of Missouri’s top destinations for gourmands.

 

Click to find Joplin’s best restaurants!

 

 

To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.

RSVPaint

There’s a recreational hot spot in downtown Joplin with a curious name: RSVPaint.

 

What do the letters stand for?

 

R = Relax. Ahh, sounds great.

 

S = Sip. Count me in!

 

V = Visit. Actually spend time in person with my friends rather than texting them? Sounds awesome!

 

P = Paint. Um, painting?

 

I do not have one artistic bone in my body (ask my kids about my attempts at drawing stick figures and I guarantee you’ll elicit some hearty laughs).

 

But paint-and-sip galleries are popular now among people, both with and without creative talent. They are filling a new recreational niche. Rather than meeting at a noisy bar, people are looking for alternative places to socialize with their friends, and RSVPaint is one of these places.

 

And, you know what? I found out that you truly you don’t have to possess any artistic skills in order to have a good time there.

 

Here’s how things work at RSVPaint?

 

First, you browse through RSVPaint’s online calendar to see which piece of artwork appeals to you. Make sure you select the Joplin location (there’s an RSVPaint in Springfield, too).

 

rsvp-themes

Themes change according to the season, so the choices are always fresh. The photo above shows some examples.

 

Once you find the piece that you want to paint, you can immediately reserve your space for the session online. While you don’t have to do this, I’d recommend it because the sessions fill up fast (remember, these places are popular now!).

 

On the night of your lesson, you can bring a beverage of your choice (alcoholic or not, it’s all good) or purchase one at the bar in the studio, then find a spot in front of one of the blank canvases at the tables.

 

After a few minutes of relaxing and visiting with your friends, the lesson begins. The instructor breaks everything down for you, leading you through the process one small step at a time.

 

rsvp-people-painting

Usually, all the students in class work on the same image for the night. However, I went to RSVPaint on one of the monthly Paint-Your-Pet nights, so while the process was the same for everyone, we all were painting different images.

 

Sounds intimidating to paint a portrait of your pet, right? Well, RSVPaint made it so simple.

 

First of all, everyone who registered for the session was asked to email personal pet photos to the studio. Here’s the photo of our golden retriever Micky that I sent:

 

rsvp-micky-photo

And here’s what my canvas looked like when I arrived at RSVPaint:

 

rsvp-outline

Those artistic angels at RSVPaint had taken our pet images and sketched their outlines on the canvases. I was so relieved to see these lines because I certainly needed their guidance!

 

Coleman, our instructor, immediately put us at ease by explaining that the acrylic paint we were using was very forgiving, and that we could easily paint over our mistakes. (He was right – I successfully painted over several spots throughout the night.)

 

He began the lesson by showing us how to paint the background for our pet image, which consisted of green grass and blue sky. He said if you didn’t want that to be your background, you could do something else, but following Coleman’s technique felt like the safe thing to do for those of us with low artistic confidence.

 

Then we moved on to outlining the image. I started with the darkest color first.

 

rsvp-in-process

Coleman’s instruction was so relaxed and encouraging, as was the atmosphere among the students in the studio. There was no judgement.

 

As the lesson progressed, I gained more confidence.

 

And while my finished painting is nowhere near museum quality, I feel satisfied by the fact that my kids didn’t laugh when they saw it.

 

rsvp-micky

I enjoyed this girls’ night out experience at RSVPaint because I was able to visit with my friends while also learning something new. (To see their awesome pet paintings, scroll down to the end of this post.)

 

My next task is to convince my husband to come with me to RSVPaint for a date night. On date night, each couple paints an image that extends over two canvases rather than each person painting the same thing. That way, there’s no competing with your beloved about whose painting is better. Brilliant!

 

rsvp-date-night

Date night!

 

By the way, RSVPaint opens its studio to younger painters, too. Painters of all ages are welcome during designated times (Saturday Family Paint and Walk-In Wednesdays), and children (13 and under) can also have their birthday parties there.

 

But it was grown-ups only on the night I went. And while I enjoyed relaxing, sipping and visiting with my friends, it was actually the painting part of the RSVPaint experience – the part that I’d originally dreaded – that made me forget my worries.

 

Because for a few hours that night, so much of my attention was focused on learning a new skill that my mind had no room for other thoughts, and my stress melted away.

 

Now that’s a great escape.

 

Here are the other pet paintings from our girls’ night out (courtesy of RSVPaint’s Facebook page):

 

rsvp-jackie-erin

Jackie and Erin (can you tell that they’re sisters?)

 

rsvp-carrie-donna

Carrie and Donna

 

rsvp-chris-julie

Me and Julie

 

RSVPaint is located at 223 Third Street. Click here to visit its website.

 

To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.

Christmas Bird Count

This morning, I was standing at my kitchen counter whisking an egg for breakfast when, suddenly, I felt my skin prickle.

 

I was being watched.

 

I turned toward the kitchen window and saw two beady eyes fixated on my every move; they belonged to a sweet female finch that was perched atop our bird feeder.

 

I halted my breakfast preparations (how could I cook an egg while a bird watched me, for heaven’s sake?) and cautiously approached the window, coming eye-to-eye with the bird.

 

Even then, the finch didn’t flinch.

 

christmas bird count chloe 2

I watched her for a good half hour, awed by her serenity and mystified her uncanny interest in watching me.

 

So, why me? Was she trying to prevent me from consuming eggs this morning by doing some sort of cosmic intervention?

 

Was she one of the birds that I’d observed in their area habitats a few weeks ago when I’d participated in the Christmas Bird Count? Maybe she was, and now she’s turning the tables by having me experience what it feels like to be watched in my own habitat.

 

Guess what, little finch?

 

It feels magical.

 

At least, in this situation it did; I’d feel differently if there’d been human eyes staring at me though my kitchen window.

 

A Birding Newbie

Birdwatching is a new activity for me. It wasn’t until a few months ago that I bought a bird feeder for the backyard, thinking that my daughters might enjoy watching the birds. They do, but I’m actually the one who’s the most fascinated with our winged backyard friends.

 

christmas bird count female cardinal

Recognizing this fact has made me rethink my perception of birdwatchers. For most of my life, I’d considered birdwatching a hobby for retired people; I saw it as a hobby for people who possess both the time and patience to observe birds for hours on end – definitely not a hobby for busy families like ours with two working parents and school-aged children who are involved in sports and activities. 

 

Yet whenever I see a brilliant red cardinal flit across our backyard and alight on the bird feeder, I automatically stop whatever I’m doing and watch. The longer I sit and marvel at these creatures who can soar with the wind, the quieter my inner voice gets – the rather annoying voice that chatters incessantly, directing me to complete one task after another, after another. A few moments pass, and there is blessed silence in my mind, accompanied by a sense of peace.

 

Bird observation = forced relaxation.

 

It’s magical.

 

I get it now, this birdwatching activity. And I’m grateful that we live near an excellent resource for both learning about and observing area birds: Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center.

 

christmas bird count center facade

This December, I participated in an event at the center called the Christmas Bird Count. Considered the longest-running citizen science survey, this event is orchestrated through the National Audubon Society, and takes place from December 14 through January 5 each year.

 

Over 72,000 volunteers in the Western Hemisphere participate in this count, providing data for scientists to track the bird population. On one Saturday during this time, Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center organizes an event for people who want to participate in the count together, which is helpful for novice birders like me.

 

I honestly didn’t have a clue about what to expect on that chilly December morning. I’d envisioned bundling up in multiple layers of bulky clothing, hiking to a field, and then standing still and silent for several hours while counting each bird I spotted.

 

I guess I thought I’d be like a scarecrow for a day.

 

But the event was nothing like that (except for the part about warm clothes). The bird count participants met at the center at 8:00 a.m. and Education Director Chris Pistole, divided everyone into groups, with each group covering a different geographic region.

 

christmas bird count welcome garden 2

While we were waiting for our assignments, I had the chance to talk to several people. For some of them, participating in the Christmas Bird Count was a family tradition, a way to spend quality time together while enjoying nature. Other people just come to the center to pick up the paperwork and then return to their homes to do the counting there. Then there’s Larry Herbert, an enthusiastic birder who’s been participating in the Christmas Bird Count for about 50 years, organizing the event locally for most of those years. That’s dedication!

 

I was fortunate to be assigned to Chris Pistole’s group; he’s a fantastic educator and definitely knows his birds! And, no, we didn’t have to brave the elements and stand in a field counting the birds that landed on our limbs. We enjoyed the warmth inside Chris’ heated car as he drove us to our assigned territory.

 

Chris occasionally pulled the car to the side of the road so we could sit quietly (all nice and snug), looking and listening for any birds. Any that we counted were recorded in the paperwork that we would turn in later at the center.

 

christmas bird count male cardinal

For people who aren’t birders, this might sounds boring, and I would have thought the same thing years ago. But participating in the bird count made me feel like I was on a scavenger hunt (well, I guess I kind of was). I’d squeal excitedly whenever I was able to identify a bird by its distinct call or flight pattern, liked I’d uncovered a clue.

 

Chris taught me a lot about birds in the few hours I spent with him. I learned that robins don’t leave our region during the winter; they only leave our backyards and gather together in the woods near a water source and return to our yards when the weather gets warmer. I learned that goldfinches change color in the winter, and I also learned how to tell the difference between a Red-headed Woodpecker and a Red-bellied Woodpecker (both of them have a degree of red markings on their head).

 

As far as the birds we counted, the majority of them were Northern Cardinals and European Starlings, but we saw many others, including this Northern Mockingbird in a field.

 

christmas bird count mocking 1

On our way back to the center, we came across this Red-shouldered Hawk in pursuit of a meal.

 

christmas bird count hawk wings

We watched as it stalked a mouse, grabbed it from the field, then flew with it to a nearby tree (which happened to be right above Chris’ car, so I had a close-up view of it tearing into its meal – yum).

 

christmas bird count hawk mouse

 

christmas bird count hawk tree

All of the groups met back at the center at noon to turn in their count paperwork, and a potluck lunch was provided by the Ozark Gateway Audubon Chapter. The center also held a Kids’ Christmas Bird Count in early January for little birders-to-be.

 

What a great idea to introduce this hobby to people while they’re young. No one needs to wait until retirement to experience the magical feeling of connecting with nature.

 

christmas bird count chloe 3

I dedicate this post to Chloe, my new outdoor friend. She returned to the feeder later today and I snapped this photo. Isn’t she heavenly?

 

For more information on the Christmas Bird Count and other nature programs, stop by Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center at 201 West Riviera Drive, or visit its website by clicking here.

 

To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.